`Strip' doesn't stray from its bare formula

Preview: The new series from movie guy Joel Silver streaks across the screen so fast, it's hard to tell how little is happening

Fall television

October 12, 1999|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

A lot of things get blowed up real good in "The Strip," and if that's the height of what you expect from television, then, friend, welcome to hog heaven.

There are major explosions in tonight's series premiere. There are also, as befits the series' Las Vegas setting, plenty of buxom babes in bikinis, gaudy neon, flashy cars and high-rolling gamblers. There's an evil, leering man with a foreign accent and a beautiful woman tied up and getting slapped around. Throw in throbbing music and stars who don't talk so much as quip, and you've got a handle on this brain-dead mess from executive producer Joel Silver, who specializes in keeping things moving so fast on screen that no one really thinks too much about what's actually happening.

Good thing, too, because what's happening really isn't much -- particularly when, as in "The Strip," there are no charismatic, big-name stars to lead the charge.

Silver has made a fortune off such high-octane movie franchises as "Lethal Weapon" and "Die Hard." Unfortunately, "The Strip," debuting at 9 tonight on UPN, doesn't even meet those standards. If anything, it makes you appreciate how important actors such as Mel Gibson, Danny Glover and Bruce Willis are to the formula.

Sean Patrick Flanery ("Powder") and Guy Torry ("American History X") start off the series as Elvis Ford and Jesse Weir, free-spirited, envelope-pushing Las Vegas cops. While working undercover to break-up an illegal slot-machine ring, the two somehow screw up an ongoing FBI investigation. This encounter puts them in hot water with the department, and their chief demands they apologize. Which, of course, they don't; instead, one of them decks the FBI agent, and they both quit the force, heaving their badges off the side of a building.

Feel exhilarated yet? That adrenalin starting to pump overtime?

Things get even more exciting when big-money hotel owner Cameron Greene (Joe Viterelli, who's made a career of playing shady, usually Mafia-connected characters) hires them to work as undercover security for his high-rolling guests. Their first job: Find the kidnapped wife of one of Greene's richest customers.

To say more would give more thought to this plot than its writers did; everything that happens tonight is strictly formula. There's the flamboyant, tough-talking, streetwise cop and his reluctant but faithful partner. There's the wife who wishes her husband would step away from his high-risk career and pay attention to her. There's the hopelessly eccentric central character (Elvis lives on a landlocked boat and listens to Led Zeppelin).

There are also lots of shots of Caesars Palace, giving the show something of the look of an infomercial -- no surprise, since press materials boast that the series "films entirely on location at the world famous Caesars Palace Hotel and Casino." Smell a promotional tie-in?

What there isn't is anything in the way of chemistry between Flanery, who communicates in monosyllables and vacant stares, and Torry, another in a long line of African-American sidekicks forced to indulge the excesses of their white counterparts. I doubt this is what NAACP leaders had in mind when they called for more diversity on TV.

Tonight's TV

What: Series premiere of "The Strip"

When: 9-10

Where: UPN (WUTB, Channel 24)

In a nutshell: Falls down, goes boom...a lot

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